Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to skip Mandela memorial, citing cost

<i>This post has been updated. See the note below for details.</i>

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not attend the memorial ceremony for Nelson Mandela due to high travel costs, Israeli media reported Monday.

Netanyahu reportedly changed his plans to attend the ceremony after calculating expenses of a short-notice trip to South Africa, estimated at nearly $2 million for travel, security and logistical arrangements.

The price tag included chartering a private El Al plane for about $800,000 and dispatching an Israeli air force plane to carry security personnel and gear, at a cost of $910,000.

Attending the memorial is “unfortunately impossible,” an Israeli official told local media.

[Updated 1:25 p.m., Dec. 9: Alon Liel, former general director of the Foreign Ministry and former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, suggested that cost was not the only consideration behind Netanyahu’s decision. “It would simply have been wrong for Netanyahu to attend; it just wouldn’t have been right,” he said in an interview. “The Palestinian issue was so important to Mandela, and Mandela regarded Netanyahu as responsible for repeatedly halting the peace process. Netanyahu’s attendance would have been wrong and his presence would not have been well-received.” Added Liel: “The expense story is a joke, a cover story.”]


One day before the service, it was not clear who would represent Israel at the memorial set to take place in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Officials were reportedly considering the cost and feasibility of last-minute arrangements for sending other figures with less complicated and pricey security arrangements, including President Shimon Peres and Speaker of the Knesset Yuli-Yoel Edelstein.

Netanyahu has recently come under fire following reports of the high cost to taxpayers of maintaining his official and private residences.

According to one report -- obtained through a petition by the Movement for Freedom of Information -- operating the prime minister’s official residence, as well as his two private homes, cost the public nearly $1 million in 2012. That included the costs of hosting visiting dignitaries as well as water bills, flower arrangements and laundry services.


Timeline: The life of Nelson Mandela

Memories of Mandela and the country he loved

Nelson Mandela: Anti-apartheid icon reconciled a nation

Sobelman is a news assistant in The Times’ Jerusalem bureau.